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Grant Montgomery is co-founder of Family Care Foundation (FCF), a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for communities, families and children in 50 countries.

North Korean defector ‘treated like dirt’ in South, fights to return

Kwon Chol-nam fled North Korea for China in 2014 by wading across a river border at night and then crawling over a barbed-wire fence. After a perilous trek that included walking through a jungle in Laos, he reached Thailand, where he was allowed to fly to South Korea to start a new life.

After all that trouble and danger, Mr. Kwon now wants South Korea to allow him to return home to the North.

“You have to ride a horse to know whether it’s the right mount for you,” Mr. Kwon said in an interview in Seoul. “I have tried, and the South is not for me. I want to go home to the North to reunite with my ex-wife and 16-year-old son.”

Mr. Kwon says he has grown disillusioned with life in the capitalist South, where he says North Korean defectors like him are treated like second-class citizens. “They called me names, treating me like an idiot, and didn’t pay me as much as others doing the same work, just because I was from the North,” Mr. Kwon said, his voice rising in anger. “In the North, I may not be rich, but I would better understand people around me and wouldn’t be treated like dirt as I have been in the South,” he said.

To press his unusual demand, he has held news conferences, submitted petitions to the United Nations and demonstrated with signs in front of government buildings in Seoul.

Mr. Kwon tried to find his own way back to the North, but that effort only landed him in jail in the South for a few months. Like all defectors, he became a South Korean citizen upon arriving here, and it is illegal for any South Korean to visit the North without government permission. Now, he is openly asking the South to repatriate him, only the second defector to make such an appeal.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea since a famine hit their homeland in the 1990s. Of them, 25 have mysteriously resurfaced back in the North in the past five years.

[New York Times]

Tillerson hails UN sanctions, as Chinese Minister rebukes North Korea at ASEAN meeting

A day after the United Nations Security Council passed its toughest sanctions against North Korea, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson met with his South Korean and Chinese counterparts in hopes of ratcheting up pressure on Pyongyang.

Mr. Tillerson hailed the United Nations vote, which could cost North Korea nearly $1 billion a year, or about one-third of its foreign earnings.

Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, held direct talks with his North Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong. In unusually strong terms, he urged North Korea to show restraint. “Do not violate the U.N.’s decision or provoke the international society’s good will by conducting missile launching or nuclear tests,” Mr. Wang said.

He also said, “Of course, we would like to urge other parties like the United States and South Korea to stop increasing tensions.”

The top US diplomat for the region, Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, gave credit to the Chinese for supporting Saturday’s vote in the United Nations against North Korea.

But Ms. Thornton cautioned that Beijing has often failed to follow through on its promised tough measures against Pyongyang. China accounts for more than 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade, and it has long avoided tough economic sanctions against the North for fear that a collapse of the government would lead to a flood of refugees, as well as the North’s reunification with the South, putting a close American ally directly on China’s border.

[New York Times]

US Senator Lindsay Graham on a North Korean strike

Republican senator Lindsay Graham noted on the Today show that Kim Jong Un is nearly capable of placing a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile and hitting the United States with it, and America can’t allow such a “madman” to get to that point, at whatever cost to non-Americans.

“If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And [Trump’s] told me that to my face,” Graham said. “That may be provocative, but not really. When you’re president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States.”

If the U.S. military were to strike North Korea for the reasons Graham mentioned, it would be the result of a calculation that sparking a real conflict in East Asia is preferable to accepting a theoretical threat to the United States–that it’s worth risking the actual deaths of those living in and near North Korea, including American expats and troops stationed in Japan and South Korea, to avert the potential deaths of Americans at home.

When I surveyed experts this spring, they predicted that whatever form U.S. strikes against North Korea take, they could result in thousands or even millions of deaths–as the North Koreans retaliate with conventional, chemical, and perhaps nuclear weapons, and the United States and its allies respond in kind, dragging the region into a spiral of conflict. The vast range of the casualty estimates spoke to just how much unknown risk U.S. military planners would be assuming.

Graham is advocating “preventive strikes,” which differ from “preemptive strikes” in that they would not be a response to imminent attack by North Korea. … He’s suggesting that the U.S. military neutralize the North Korean nuclear threat so Kim never has the ability to nuke California.

When members of the Trump administration publicly discuss military options against North Korea, they typically describe them in preventive terms. It’s not surprising that a hawk like Lindsey Graham would characterize the president’s views that way. But you don’t have to take his word for it. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national-security adviser, has staked out a similar position. In April, he said it would be unacceptable for the North Korean government to obtain nuclear weapons that can reach the United States, even if that entails taking military action that would produce “human catastrophe” in South Korea. In July, Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, engaged in the same grim calculus.

The Trump administration may simply be talking tough to spook North Korea and its ally, China, into making concessions. …But what happens if North Korea calls America’s bluff?

[The Atlantic]

More on North Korea’s Office 39

Kim Jong Un’s perceived flare for the dramatic is something he shares with his late father, Kim Jong Il. The elder Kim was a noted cinephile and James Bond fan, and analysts say his fondness for spy thrillers appeared to influence his leadership — South Korea says he tried to assassinate enemies with a pen, and kidnapped movie stars in order to boost the country’s own film industry.

And Kim Jong Il also created of what’s known as “Office 39.”

The US Treasury Department says Office 39 is the bureau that “provides critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds.”

The money basically hides in plain sight, according to Harvard-based North Korea specialist John Park. “North Korean overseas networks have been extremely adaptive to the combined pressures of international sanctions, in large part due to their ability to nest and disguise their illicit business within the licit trade,” according to Park.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States will try to further stymie North Korean operations by punishing third parties that help Pyongyang skirt sanctions. Though Tillerson did not specify how those third-country sanctions would work, part of the strategy involves asking countries around the globe to scale back their diplomatic relationships with Pyongyang. Experts say China cracking down on its unruly neighbor may be the key to stopping Pyongyang’s illicit activities.

[CNN]

US Secretary of State to meet North Korean Foreign Minister

Pyongyang and Washington’s top diplomats will soon sit down in the same room for the first time.

On Sunday, Ri Yong Ho and Rex Tillerson will both be in the Philippines for the annual Association of Southeastern Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Regional Forum, a dialogue to discuss security issues which includes 27 countries.

It’s the highest-level annual encounter between North Korea and the United States, says Mike Fuchs, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and the first during the Trump administration.

“It will be a very important opportunity again for the United States and North Korea to send messages — unvarnished, with no middle-men — to one another about their policies,” Fuchs said. “The interesting dynamic is the signals sent from one to the other when they’re in the room together.”

Tillerson will have the tough task of trying to reassure allies in the room like Japan and South Korea while also trying to make clear to North Korea what the United States can and cannot accept from Pyongyang’s rapidly progressing weapons program, Fuchs, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told CNN.

It remains unclear if the two sides will have lower-level meetings. “There’s not going to be a huge sitdown. There may be third party intermediaries to try to relay messages back,” said Rodger Baker, the vice president of strategic analysis at Stratfor.

[CNN]

Increased rate of defectors who have fled North Korea arriving in Thailand

The number of North Koreans entering Thailand illegally has surged in recent months as increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula inspire people to escape the hermit state.

In all of 2016, 535 North Korean defectors arrived in Thailand. But in just the first six months of this year saw 385 arrivals, according to data from the country’s immigration bureau.

One immigration official said: “An average of 20 to 30 North Koreans arrive each week now in northern Thailand alone.”

Roongroj Tannawut, a district official of Chiang Khong district in northern Thailand, said:  “The North Koreans come to Thailand to get arrested so they will get an asylum to South Korea.”

After being arrested, most North Koreans are sent to an immigration detention center in Bangkok before being deported, usually to South Korea.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said: “Since the South Korean constitution recognizes all Koreans as its citizens, it is possible for Thailand to recognize South Korea as a legitimate destination to deport North Koreans.”

[Express]

North Korean defector reveals Office 39 inner workings

Ri Jong Ho, a high-profile North Korean who defected in 2014,worked for decades in what’s known as “Office 39.” The office is in charge of bringing in hard currency for the regime. Ri calls it a “slush fund for the leader and the leadership.” Some of Office 39’s profits also go to the country’s nuclear and missile programs

However, Ri told CNN “Office 39”, which has branches throughout North Korea, is not engaged in illicit activities He said that they were not under the purview of Office 39, but did not deny they occurred. (North Korea has been accused of crimes like hacking banks, counterfeiting currency, dealing drugs and even trafficking endangered species.)

Ri said much of North Korea’s hard cash is earned through exporting labor — the country sends workers across the globe and collects much of their pay, according to the UN — and exporting natural resources like coal, which China used to buy but has since stopped.

 

Analysts say Office 39 is likely now in the cross hairs of US President Donald Trump’s administration. The Trump team has made it clear that one of the ways it plans to deal with North Korea is to squeeze its revenue streams across the globe in order to pressure them into negotiations over their weapons programs.

 

Ri, who now lives in Washington DC, believes that secondary sanctions — targeting those who do business with North Korea — is the way to go, especially in China.

 

Beijing accounts for about 85% of North Korean imports in 2015, according to UN data, though Ri revealed that Pyongyang does import some oil from Russia. North Korean economist Ri Gi Song told CNN in February that China accounts for 70% of trade and that trade with Russia is increasing.

[CNN]

Defectors and Google Earth map decades of horror in North Korea

A Seoul-based non-governmental organization has used Google Earth technology to enable North Korean defectors to “build a digital map of crimes against humanity in North Korea.”

The Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) released a new report, the result of two years of research and interviews with 375 North Korean defectors, that identifies what it says are grave sites, murder locations and government offices that “may be used for future investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity.”

Hangings, public executions, cremation sites, and remote burial sites are ostensibly identified, said to be close in proximity to known detention facilities and labor camps. “The majority of burial and killing sites identified were in North Hamgyong Province, which borders China,” the report notes, acknowledging that 221 of the 375 people interviewed came from this province.

North Korean defectors identified 47 “body sites.” The researchers used this term because, they said, “While the majority of these sites are burial sites, some of those identified by interviewees were sites where the bodies were not buried but rather abandoned, dumped, hidden without burial, or were storage sites for bodies yet to be buried or cremated.”

Defectors would describe atrocities they had knowledge of, allowing the researchers to note the locations. They also categorized the source’s relationship to the location or the event, indicating if they were physically present, heard or saw directly, heard straight from a victim or heard only as a rumor. The data collected spans decades – not just Kim Jong Un’s current bloody reign, but that of his father Kim Jong Il, the former Supreme Leader, as well.

In the findings, researchers noted that the project is not endeavoring to “establish individual criminal responsibility of given actors, but rather to expose in a transparent manner the extent of the violations committed and their systematic nature. …It is our intention,” states the report, “to provide our data to the relevant legal authorities at a time when we expect the necessary criminal investigation to take place.”

[Fox News]

North Korean defector shocked she might have aided assassination of pastor

A North Korean defector has claimed she was forced to provide information on the movements of a pastor living in China who was helping defectors, shortly before he was murdered by agents of Pyongyang’s Ministry of State Security.

Han Chung-ryeol, a pastor at a church in China’s Changbai City, helped to run a network that assisted people fleeing the border region before they could be caught and sent back to North Korea. He disappeared in April 2016 but was later found dead with a slashed throat.

In an interview with the Seoul-based DailyNK news site, the woman, who defected from North Korea in June, explained  she had been caught smuggling medicinal herbs and scrap metal into North Korea, and local authorities forced her to become an informant.

She was ordered to record the movements of Pastor Han and pass the information on to security officers.

The woman, who has not been named, said she was “shocked” when she learned that the information she had been providing was used to kill Mr Han.

[The Telegraph]

North Korean defector repair boy

Kim Hak-min, 30, was born in coal country in the North Korean province of North Hamgyong, which borders China. His father worked in the mines as an engineer.

At the age of 7, Kim became obsessed with electric gadgets. “I just wanted to disassemble everything,” he says. At 13, he started fixing neighbors’ watches and electrical appliances, earning the nickname “Repair Boy.” After his father died of liver cancer in 2003, Kim started making a living fixing people’s broken appliances. He got to know how televisions work.

“To prevent North Koreans from watching Chinese channels that air South Korean dramas, state security officials fix televisions so they only broadcast state-run channels. I was the kid in the town who could unlock that code and let people watch South Korean dramas. I watched them myself.”

He was arrested three times for watching forbidden dramas. The first two times he avoided punishment because he was underage. The third time he got caught, in early 2009, he was 22. “Watching a single drama can earn you a five-year sentence. I was busted for having watched hundreds! I was certain I would be sent to a far-flung prison camp, where I would perish.”

Soon after his arrest, beatings and sleep deprivation began. “They [interrogators] made you sit absolutely rigid for 15 hours straight,” he recalls. “If you move an inch, a punch follows.”

To his surprise, he was released after two months. “People in the town pleaded with the authorities to release me, for which I am forever grateful.” They were the neighbors and friends whose electric gadgets Kim had fixed in the past – often for free.

On a freezing day in January 2011, he crossed the frozen Yalu River to China with a girlfriend. After making another crossing into Thailand, a route arranged by defection brokers, the couple landed in Seoul in March 2011. Kim is now majoring at electronic engineering at Sogang University in Mapo District, western Seoul.

[JoongAng Ilbo]